John Irving’s Bad Habits

I’ve had little interest in reading John Irving‘s recent books, and part of the reason for that is encapsulated in an ingenious chart on Wikipedia displaying recurring themes in his fiction—by the time of A Prayer for Owen Meany, I figured I’d gotten his moves down, and though deeply admired The World According to Garp as a teen, I never liked Dickens enough in the first place to keep up with an author who’s just “Dickensian.” Still, the Q&A with Irving in the Denver Post—tied to a stage production of Owen Meany—is interesting reading, partly because Irving cops to a few of his thematic tics. A reader notes that a number of violent deaths in the book have a sports element to them, to which Irving replies:

This is a novel about the damage Americans do to themselves; sports are a part of that damage. If world news were covered as extensively, and in such detail, as the ceaseless March Madness over college basketball, wouldn’t Americans be better informed about the world, and our place in it, than we are? Your observation is a good one. It’s not literally, of course, that sports are killing us; but what we pay intense attention to it, and what we ignore is surely doing us some harm.

And he suggests one more column for that Wikipedia page:

Virgins (in my novels) apparently interest me. Jenny Fields (Garp’s mother) is a virgin, except for once. Also (“except for once”) Dr. Larch in “The Cider House Rules.” But Jenny’s reasons are feminist, and Larch’s are eccentrically a part of his overreaction to everything. Johnny Wheelwright is in love with Owen; his heart is broken.

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